Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[While We Were Fighting] Scene Framing the Renaissance

Started by Peter Nordstrand, February 22, 2008, 12:05:22 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Peter Nordstrand

So we played While We Were Fighting at OmniCon, and it went really well. (See footnote for a description of WWWF.) I learned a lot from this session, but I'll concentrate on one thing that turned out surprisingly well, and it is my system for handling scenes and scene framing. Please ignore my earlier version involving cards. The current iteration is quite different, and I'm quite proud of the mechanic. It utilizes six sided dice, termed story dice. I'll quote the playtest rules.

QuoteAt the start of the game, each player (including the gm) rolls one story die. The person who rolled the highest total removes his or her die, and frames the first scene. Don't touch anybody else's story dice. Their rolls are still important.

Once the first scene is concluded everybody rolls an additional story die and adds it to their previous pool. Whoever has the highest total removes all her dice and frames the next scene, and so on.

And it worked! Everybody got their turn at scene framing, and in the long run it definitely evens out.

In this session, the players framed remarkably well, but the game would benefit from clearer narrative focus. And the way to go is to provide the GM with tools and authority to help propel the game through the judicious use of Bangs. Or so I believe. In future playtests, I will restrict the players' power a bit. Someone suggested that scene framing rights be more like scene creation in Prime Time Adventures. The player creating the scene would decide where it takes place, who is involved, and set the general agenda, but the actual scene framing would be left to the GM. Also, I believe that it is imperative that the GM retains exclusive control over the NPCs. This was not entirely the case when we played.

A Twist
An important purpose of the story dice is to trigger Crises; major events like invasions, plagues, and uprisings. Events that affect everyone.

QuoteIf at any time a player has three or more story dice of the same number (three sixes, three threes, etc), a crisis is about to occur. It hasn't happened yet, but it is on the horizon, and everybody knows it.


Once a crisis has been rolled, players may not add new dice to their story dice pools. Keep playing as usual until no-one has any story dice left. Now the crisis begins.

Once the crisis begins, the GM frames a series of crisis scenes, one for each player, introducing problems, opponents and disasters relating to the specific crisis at hand.  Afterwards, normal play resumes, but the crisis lingers for quite a while, making an appearance every time the GM frames a scene. Eventually it ceases. In our game the crisis was the Black Plague, and one character's slaves became infected, for example. Another character was trapped inside a quarantined area, while a third became ill himself, but survived after managing to muster a veritable army of doctors and priests to his side.

Crises turned out to be a powerful tool. One player remarked that play became more stringent when the priorities of players and their characters were confronted with the harsh inhumanity of the crisis.

I do like the random nature of crises. They seem to have the potential to instill a sense of urgency and desperation into the game. When we played, I could have handled them better (I missed a few good opportunities), but that's a different matter. 

Over all, I'm very happy with how things turned out. Sure, the game still needs a lot of work, but I'm pretty sure I'm on the right track. Oh, and the other players were fantastic, which of course helped.

Note: For those who don't know, While We Were Fighting is my game about power struggles in the fictional renaissance city of Venora. Player characters are influential citizens, whose power stems from family ties, business arrangements and traditional privileges. Think Medici( and Borgia(, and you get the picture.
Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
     —Grey's Law

Peter Nordstrand

Oh, and if you are interested in checking out the playtest rules in their entirety, please PM me. I hunger for your input. :-)
Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
     —Grey's Law

Marshall Burns


I really dig the Story Dice, especially as they apply to the onset of crises.

I'd also like to playtest this at some point, if I can get my group interested.



Yeah, the story dice are solid. When I played with Peter they had a huge and positive effect on game play. One of the benefits of them was that the GM (in this case Peter) had a clear area of contribution when Crises came in to play. I believe that Peter is right in wanting to restrict scene framing powers a bit, and that the GM retaining NPC control is imperative, as he says. I'm pretty sure this can be done without losing the impact that Crises has.

Peter, have you given any more thought to my critique of "paying" Leverage to enter a scene? I came to think of one instance of play where I did just that, and it resulted in (what I considered) a successful scene. However, had I not spent that Leverage, what I did might have been considered stomping over the interests of the other player. Here Leverage-spending said to everyone "he can do this" and I did. Without it I would have to (and I would have) communicate my intent in entering the scene more clearly I think. Any thoughts on this? I'm thinking of the scene with the brothers Frescobaldi and their sister.
Anders Sveen

Peter Nordstrand


Story dice and crises work together, not only mechanically, but thematically as well, by helping us figure out where the next scene takes place, and who is in it. But you've figured that out already. The system even helps us decide what the scene will be about in general terms. The way to do this is to refer to the player characters' Ambitions (their personal goals, that are established in character generation). When you frame a scene, just pick a player character, find out what his or her Ambition is, and create a scene that spotlights the Ambition in some way.

For example, Giovanni Frescobaldi's Ambition is to be buried in the cathedral. The player creating the scene says "I want a scene in the cathedral, where Giovanni has a meeting with the archbishop about getting a burial spot. Problem is, there is someone else at that meeting as well, who wants the same thing."

This wasn't fully clear to me at the time of this playtest, but all the tools are already there, and I'm quite confident it will work out fine. In a way, Ambitions are to While We Were Fighting what Issues are to Prime Time Adventures.

There will be a new playtest draft of the rules within a week or so. Anybody wanting to playtest after is more than welcome to do so.
Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
     —Grey's Law

Peter Nordstrand


Before I reply, let me explain what you are talking about to everyone else. Leverage forms the basis of a character's dice pool, used to win conflicts of interest. It is also used as an in-game currency that can be spent to obtain various advantages. In the current rules draft this is related to scene framing as follows: Each scene contains one player character by default. If the framing player wants to include more than one character, she must pay one point of Leverage per extra character. In addition, a player who is not the framing player may spend a point of Leverage to put her own character in a scene.

Now, about your critique. My current thinking is that the person creating a scene should be able to include any number of player characters at no additional cost. One reason why I chose to give players explicit control over scene creation is that it is empowering. Player characters are supposed to be powerful. By giving the players a lot of authority over the where and the who and the why, I hope to encourage proactive play. The current restriction is directly at odds with this idea, so it should go. Putting several player characters in a scene together should cost nothing, if you are the framing character.

However, you are talking about something else, because in the scene you're mentioning you were not the player currently in charge of scene creation. Your post is spot on in this regard. In short, you exercised power over a scene created by someone else. And even though I believe you should keep the ability to do so, I still think you should have to pay for the privilege. Therefore, introducing your own character into a scene that he has not been framed into, still costs a point of Leverage. Essentially, you are paying to get more influence over the story.

In this particular case, it turned out very well, as you not only helped create a memorable scene, but also more or less managed to recruit a crucial NPC to your character's side.

What do you think?

All the best,

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
     —Grey's Law